Content Marketing: 5 Goals for Your Business

When using content marketing for your business, you probably have one, very clear main goal in mind: making more sales. However, there are a bunch of other goals that help you achieve this one. Having a firm idea of what they are will help you gain perspective and make sure your content marketing efforts are moving in the right direction.

  1. Traffic: One of your main goals with content marketing should be an increase in traffic. You’ll need to get more people interested in your products or services if you want to sell more of them. Create content that helps you get as much traffic as possible.
  2. Engagement: Tons of traffic means little if the people who visit your page aren’t really interested in what you have to say. You want to create content that stimulates long, quality interaction. To do this, you’ll need to create content that is not only relevant to the audience you want to engage but also likely to capture and hold its attention. Keep in mind that a good design and layout can help you increase engagement as well. If your layout is crappy, many visitors won’ stick around long enough to read your content.
  3. Social Media Success:  Social media can help you get the word about your business out there, helping not only to improve visibility and increase traffic but also to boost your reputation. You want to create content that gets more followers, shares, comments, retweets, and likes.
  4. Backlinks: Many people, especially those just getting a feel for content marketing, underestimate the importance of backlinks. Others may simply theorize that they aren’t as important as they were in the past. Both of these positions are mistakes. Backlinks are important for two major reasons. First, they help you increase traffic. Second, they help boost your search engine authority, which ensures that more people see your pages in their search results. Of course, backlinks from just any site won’t do. You only want links from reputable sites.
  5. Conversions: Ultimately, you want content that helps you convert your traffic. Keep in mind, however, that this doesn’t always mean sales conversions. Often, you are directing your visitors towards another action instead. For example, you may want visitors to sign up for your newsletter or online course. Well-crafted calls to action help.

Keep these goals in mind as you create content for your business. And be sure to track your results. Monitoring what works and what doesn’t can help you decide how to proceed going forward.

 

4 Steps to Creating a Content Marketing Engine

Once you’ve decided that inbound marketing is right for you, what’s next? As enthusiastic as you may feel, it’s only natural to puzzle over how you’re supposed to go from being an traditional, advertising-heavy company to a creator and distributor of content that attracts, engages, and moves your audience through the marketing funnel. The answer? You need to create a content marketing engine so that content creation becomes easy and seamless. Here’s how.

1. Decide whether to insource or outsource your content. You can absolutely create your own content, and many companies do, but this is where some companies often run into problems. Either they cannot create the type of content they need to produce real results, or they simply aren’t good at producing it. There is no shame in that, and outsourcing is a ready solution. Here’s when you may need to outsource:

  • Creating enough quality, engaging content is a challenge
  • The people on your team are just not natural content creators
  • With all that you have to do in the course of your busy week, content creation may migrate to the bottom of your to-do list

Of course, if you have great writers in house, you may not need to outsource your content creation. But they may also have “day jobs” which makes it difficult to meet the demands of a hungry inbound marketing engine, so having an outside person help them manage deadlines and editorial calendars might help them focus on the writing itself, not the management of it.

2. Decide how to outsource. So outsourcing sounds like it’s for you? Now you have to decide how to do it. Here are some excellent choices:

  • Hire (and manage) a dedicated writer to craft content tailored for your ideal customers.
  • Crowdsource content from your community. You can opt for paid or unpaid content or a combination of both. If you choose unpaid, use non-monetary types of recognition/rewards for the content producer.
  • Hire influencers/bloggers. As a bonus, you get to leverage their reach and engage their often considerable followers.
  • Hire an agency to manage some or all of the above types of outsourcing. This is the least time-consuming, most stress-free option.

3. Create an editorial calendar. Organization is key to getting anything done, and the same goes for content creation. An editorial calendar not only helps you stay on task and remember when to write and publish, but also helps you focus on the right themes for reaching and converting your prospects.

In your calendar, include not only planned blog posts, but also all of your other inbound marketing content, including whitepapers, newsletters, emails, eBooks, events, and social media. For some insight into just how important an editorial calendar is, consider this: My blog editorial calendar template is the top requested download on my site.
editorial calendar gfx

4. Develop content topics: This is a team effort. Gather every content marketing idea you and/or your team can brainstorm. Be broad and think outside the box! Here’s how to get the best topic ideas:

  • Listen to your customers: You’re trying to engage, convert and delight them, so give them what they want. They’ll tell you what they want via social media, through emails, and by asking questions and sharing concerns with your customer service team.
  • Make a list: Don’t you hate forgetting great ideas? This is how you avoid that.
  • Answer all of your audience’s questions: You don’t want them looking elsewhere for answers.
  • Research keywords: Targeting keywords in your content will help you bring in search traffic.
  • Be honest: Being open and genuine will help you win not only friends but also customers.
  • Brainstorm regularly: Don’t expect your original content topics to serve you indefinitely. Always work towards finding new and better ideas for reaching your audience.
  • Talk about it: Don’t be afraid to talk about the competition or even write about controversial subjects. Controversy boosts traffic. Just makes sure you don’t stray from your company’s general norms and policies.
  • Try writing articles in the “versus” and “bests” formats (You vs. a competitor, best things about….). They generate a lot of interest and get shares.

No more excuses! These four steps are all you need to create a content marketing engine. Please let us know how it’s going for you in the comments.

This post is fourth in a series on how to use inbound marketing in your company marketing efforts. You may also be interested in the first post, What Is Inbound Marketing, and the second post, Creating Customer Personas for Inbound Marketing, and the third post, 7 Key Assets for Inbound Marketing

 

Creating Content for Inbound Marketing

Content is at the core of what inbound marketing is – it’s what attracts people to your brand, product or service, versus you needing to go out and find them. Think of content as the honey which attracts the flies!

content marketing - themes, topics & alignment worksheet

Because it’s easier to start something new when you have a process, I offer you this method of creating content.

Step 1: Brainstorm themes for your content

You don’t want to write only about your product or service – would you want to read three blog posts a week about your product? So your content will cover both your product/service and adjacent or related themes – in some distance outside of your core. How far out you go depends on your product and industry; in a highly specialized area you may want to keep things fairly tight, but in a broader marketplace you can go pretty wide and still maintain relevancy to your company.

Themes are not titles or specific posts, they’re the overarching ideas that all of your content will address.

For example – some themes for my business, a digital marketing agency, are:

  • Marketing to teens, tweens & parents
  • How to create content/inbound marketing & social media strategy
  • How to use specific social media platforms
  • How inbound and digital marketing intersect with other marketing
  • Examples of companies doing content & social media well

Step 2: Brainstorm topics for your themes

Now you’re going to drill down – you’re going to develop some draft titles and specific ideas for your content. Choose one of your themes and come up with as many different topics as you can for that theme.

Some of the types of content you might create include:

  • Make a list
  • Answer a question
  • Talk about the competition
  • Use the “vs.” format
  • Write about “the best”
  • Outline a process
  • Provide examples
  • Curate other people’s examples or content
For my theme of “How to create content/inbound marketing & social media strategy,” topics could include:
  • 4 ways to use inbound marketing to solve customer problems
  • How to involve your whole team in your content creation
  • Why content creation saves time & money vs. traditional advertising
  • How to use influencers in your content creation strategy
  • Why you shouldn’t use bloggers as your social media agency

Step 3: Determine content types

This part will probably be pretty easy – make a list of all of the content types you currently create/offer and those you know you want to create. Content types could include:
  • Blog post
  • Video (short-form, like Instagram and Vine, and long-form, like YouTube videos)
  • Images
  • Podcast topic
  • Email
  • eBook
  • Whitepaper
  • Facebook update
  • Tweet
  • Slideshare
  • Webinar

Step 4: Align topics to content types

For each topic that you create, assign it to a specific content type.

Now comes the really hard part: you have to create the content! Once you have a list of topics you like, and know what kind of content you want to create for that topic, add that topic + content type to your editorial calendar.

Get the Content Creation Worksheet

I’ve created a brand-new worksheet which can help you with the brainstorming and content alignment process. Download it here, and please let me know how it works for you!

 

Critical Twitter Lessons to Aid Your Marketing

Twitter is one of the big boys when it comes to social media marketing. If you’ve yet to begin using it for your business or don’t know how to use it well, thisTwitter Lessons post is for you! The following articles will get you up to speed and help you use your Twitter account as an effective marketing tool.

The 2013 Twitter Marketing Guide

Maybe you’re new to Twitter. Maybe you’ve been using the social media site for years but only for personal connections. If you’re just now considering the social media platform for marketing purposes, this article can help. It provides everything from basic instructions for creating a Twitter profile and understanding Twitter lingo to tips for planning your strategy and building a following. Click here to learn the basics of using Twitter for marketing.

Five Ways to Use Twitter for Marketing That You Might Not Know About

Once you have the basics of Twitter marketing down, you may benefit from some additional ideas for using it for your business. This article provides information about ways to do the following:

  • Connect with mobile users via Twitter
  • Use search options to find relevant opportunities
  • Connect with journalists
  • Improve your search engine rankings

What else will you learn? You’ll also discover how to use your tweets in conjunction with Google Alerts to get search engine traffic and monitor what others are saying about your company. Read more about lesser-known ways to use Twitter.

Avoid These 9 Common Twitter Mistakes

The fact is that everyone makes mistakes. It’s all too easy to make a misstep here and a glaring error there. Fortunately, others have tripped and fallen before you, and you can learn from them. The author of this article, Timothy Carter, provides the details you need to avoid common problems, ranging from posting at the wrong times and sending vague tweets to being boring and messing up your privacy settings. For instance, something as simple as failing to follow other Twitter users is a mistake that may hold you back. Read more about common Twitter mistakes.

10 Lessons from the Top 25 Most Engaged Brands on Twitter

You can learn a lot from the successes of others. According to Mark Fidelman (writing for Forbes), engaging via Twitter requires companies to develop an emotional connection with their followers and effectively spread not their own message but an industry-specific one. Fidelman provides a list of 10 things companies of all sizes can learn from 25 of the most engaged brands on this social media platform. For example, telling stories, working with influencers, and driving emotion are among the top things you can do to better engage your audience. Read the reasons these top 25 brands do engagement so well.

 

How to Use Content Marketing for B2B Lead Generation

Content marketing is a primary lead generation tool. In fact, close to 70 percent of marketers use content marketing for lead generation. Why? It’s been proven over the years that it’s effective and beats out many other efforts at attracting leads. For example, studies demonstrate that many consumers are unimpressed with the plethora of ads they see each day, say “no” to telemarketing calls, and trash carefully crafted marketing messages sent through the postal mail. If 86 percent of potential customers skip ads, you need another way to reach them, and compelling content consistently performs in this area.

Content Marketing for B2B Lead Gen

Your content, such as a blog, video, or eBooks and whitepapers, can also offer more than just lead generation. Take advantage of great content to help you throughout your lead cycle, to nurture and convert leads. Good content can help many aspects of your B2B business by:

●    Showing your prospects that you understand their needs

●    Helping your prospects get to know and evaluate your company and its products/services

●    Helping your prospects through the decision-making process

●    Providing support after a purchase and during implementation and use

●    Building customer loyalty

●    Encouraging repeat purchases

Sometimes content success can be difficult to come by. It’s not a magic bullet and not everyone does it well. Use these guidelines to help plan your B2B content marketing strategy and you’ll have leads flowing in no time.

Plan Well for Content

In order to enjoy success, you have to know who, why, and how. Consider the following questions as you plan for content marketing:

●    What are your specific goals and objectives?

●    Who is your audience?

●    What does your audience know? What does it need to know? What are its goals?

●    What do you want your audience to do? How can you encourage the actions you want?

●    How do you differ from your competition? How can you use your content to demonstrate the differences?

Create Content That Meets Your Audience’s Needs

You have compelling information to share, but just waiting until you’re asked for it isn’t a very effective strategy. Instead, you need to learn what your market needs and wants, what it finds interesting, what it finds boring, and what its burning questions are. Once you have answers to these questions, write compelling content that speaks to your audience’s needs and wants, stimulates its interest, and answers its most burning questions.

While you’re at it, be careful with what you share. Avoid content that is overly promotional or focuses on too much on your business. Instead, focus on providing information about the industry and talking about your audience.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can never include promotional content. There is a time and a place for promotional writing. The important thing is to stroke your audience first, make sure you have its attention, and develop a strong rapport. Then, you can insert more promotional content. But keep it to a minimum, so you don’t lose the audience you’ve worked so hard to develop.

Customize Content By Lead Stage

Think about the content that will best serve your audience at each stage of the lead cycle. At the very beginning, informational blogs, e-Books, white papers, websites, etc. make a good fit. Your content should, of course, inform, instruct, interest, and problem-solve. Later, however, after you’ve gotten your prospects interested in engaging with you, you can present your products and services in a more direct way, focusing on providing the solutions they need and adding demos and trials into the mix.

Don’t forget that you can deliver content throughout your lead cycle via email, newsletters, videos, and microsites as well.

Be Consistent

Once you’ve created compelling content for your audience, don’t stop there. To be successful at generating leads with content marketing, and to nurture your leads and get conversions, you have to provide compelling content on a consistent basis. Let your prospects know when they can expect to hear from you next and make them comfortable by delivering quality content on a regular basis.

Share It

Building it and expecting them to come won’t produce the results you expect. Instead, you’ll need to apply a carefully planned strategy to sharing your content and making it easy to find. Include:

●    Social media, including social networking, bookmarking, video, and image-posting sites

●    Search engine marketing (use Google AdWords to drive traffic directly to your content)

●    Other online advertising

●    Email

●    Online news releases

Collect Lead Data

It’s not enough just to put great content on your website.  Create a form which is ready to collect data from the leads you generate via content marketing.

Make your lead generation form easy to find, complete, and submit. Request just enough information to get started with the lead, as many prospects will feel put off or offended if you ask too much right off the bat. You can always collect more information later. Often, a name and email address is enough to collect at first, and you can easily obtain that by offering a free downloadable report and requesting an email address to which to send the link.

 

Now go forth and create, and capture those leads! And please check back with us and leave a comment to let us know how you’re doing.

Photo: Flickr (Lisa_Yarost)

 

blogging for brands

Common Questions about Blogging for Brands

blogging for brands

Co-authored by Stephanie Schwab and Christina Strickland

Your brand blog should be the cornerstone of your content marketing efforts. Yes, Facebook, Twitter and the rest are essential too but they shouldn’t be your only home on the web. It’s what both practice and teach here at Crackerjack Marketing. (You can read more about why here.)

If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, hopefully you understand the benefits of blogging for your brand. Whether you are new to blogging or a long-time content creator, you may have some questions.

How Often Should I Blog?

If you ask most people who have been blogging for a while, they’ll tell you, “The more, the better.” That’s because every post gives you exposure on the internet. It gives more people a chance to discover you because good content, updated frequently is one of the main reasons Google (or any search engine) uses to decide your fate in getting listed in search results.

The reality is that blogging is writing and if you are a beginner, you may find writing challenging. Writing a blog also takes time. But you’ll discover that the more you write, the better you get at writing and the easier it is to do. So let’s assume that you’re not going to be writing a blog post every day of the week to start. What schedule can you keep up with that is reliable? The most important advice we can offer is to get started and keep at it. Don’t let a week go by without at least one blog post. Once you get more comfortable with blogging, you should increase the frequency of your posts.

You’ll learn to write down ideas as they come to you, sketch out your posts and hit the keyboard. Blogging is a practice that requires discipline. Build from one post a week to two or three. That’s a frequency that will help you build your online presence quickly and start getting traffic, comments, and learn what’s of interest to your readers.

Blogging three times a week is an excellent rate. If you can continue at that pace, and assuming your content is relevant and helpful, you’ll see results much faster than starting slowly.

But for many, dipping your toe in the water is more realistic. With the idea that the goal is to get fully wet and start swimming, it’s fine to start off slowly. No matter what, though, no matter how little traffic you see in the beginning, do not quit. It takes time to see results. Slowly but surely, you’ll be discovered and read. You’ll meet people. The benefits of blogging will become apparent to you, and they are many.

Once you’ve committed to blogging, don’t think of it as an optional activity. Consider it as important to your business as paying the bills or opening your door in the morning.

How Long Should a Blog Post Be?

While you understand how important relevant, valuable content is to the success of your blog, you may have questions about length. If you visit a handful of blogs, you’re likely to see blog posts that vary considerably in terms of length. So how do you decide how long to make your posts? Which length will your readers prefer?

Many bloggers keep their posts to 250 to 500 words while others write closer to 2000 words each time. While longer posts can provide a good deal of detailed information and may help stimulate conversation, there are benefits to writing shorter posts. Among them are the following:

  • Tight focus: With a long blog post, you may feel tempted to wander a bit with your point, and in doing so, you may inadvertently lose your reader’s attention. When you write shorter posts, you have less room for wandering, and you’re more likely to stay tightly focused on your topic. Your readers will appreciate you for that.
  • Scanability: Most Internet users don’t read online content the way they read offline. Instead, they scan, looking for the highlights in posts and specific points of value. Short posts are easier to scan than long versions, but you can increase the scanability of any post by including bulleted or numbered lists, headings and subheadings, and short, easy-to-digest paragraphs.
  • Time: The longer your posts, the more time you will have to put into writing them. In fact, you may even put off writing longer posts because they do take up so much of your time. Since shorter posts require less time to create, you can post more often and have a better chance of keeping your readers’ attention and interest. Just think, if you only write once or twice a month because your long posts take so long to create, your readers may get tired of waiting and go elsewhere in search of the content they seek. If, on the other hand, you focus on shorter posts, you can write more often (perhaps once or twice a week) and provide regular content for your readers to digest.

Though there are benefits to writing short blog posts, this doesn’t mean you should NEVER write longer posts. If you have something of value to share, and you need 1000 or more words to share it well, then by all means, write a longer post. Your goal is to deliver well-written content that your audience will value, share, comment on, and come back to see more of. In the end, the length doesn’t matter as long as you meet this goal.

What Are Some Common Blogging Mistakes to Avoid?

Everyone makes mistakes. They are a natural part of life and running a business. But if you can learn from the mistakes others have made, you might make fewer of your own and enjoy a faster, smoother road to meeting your goals. Blogging for your business might seem simple and easy, but there are plenty of pitfalls that can get in your way. Here are four of the most common blogging mistakes business owners make and tips for avoiding them.

Sporadic Posts

Failing to blog regularly is one of the most common mistakes business bloggers make. Think about it: if you found a magazine you liked, but the publisher only sent it sporadically, how long would it be before you lost interest and moved on to different magazine? The same sort of scenario works with blogs. Sporadic content, no matter how good, sends readers looking for another blog that regularly posts content of value to them.

Keep your readership happy and interested by posting regularly. There are no hard-and-fast rules about the number of times you should post, but many bloggers find their readership satisfied with a couple of posts per week. Even if you decide to post just once a week, make sure you keep up with it to avoid losing the interest of your readers.

Unrealistic Expectations

It’s normal to have the highest hopes for your blog. Who doesn’t want to experience success? But expecting overnight blogging success is an all-too-common mistake. As with building a business, developing a successful blog takes time and hard work. Commit to devoting 12 months to developing your blog and cultivating your readership. Your job won’t end once you complete the first year, but it’s reasonable to see some encouraging results by then.

Focusing on Promotion

Many new business bloggers feel confused about the type of content they should post on their blogs. They often make the mistake of including too much promotional content. This can be a major mistake, as a business blog isn’t meant to serve as an advertisement. Instead, your blog should provide conversational content that is relevant and interesting to your readers. While it is okay to use your blog to make business announcements and share news of new products and services, much of your content should focus on industry news, hints, tricks, advice, how-to’s and insights into your industry and company. Keeping sales to a minimum will help you attract loyal readers.

Discouraging Conversation

Your business blog is an important tool for conversation and interaction, but many bloggers disable commenting. While their reasons for doing so, such as avoiding spam and negative comments, are often understandable, disabling the comment feature can impair your ability to connect and engage with your readers. Instead, you might find it easier to meet your blogging goals if you not only enable commenting but also encourage your readers to share their comments, questions, concerns and stories on your blog. Then, be sure to respond and keep the conversation going.

Even if you still have questions, we hope that you get started and keep going. The more you publish blog posts, the faster you’ll establish a drum beat. It’s okay if you need to change things up a little later. The important thing is to take action!

Media Kits for Bloggers

Media Kits for Bloggers
Last night I was a guest of the Philly Social Media Moms, presenting to a great group of bloggers on how to create media kits. Jo-Lynne Shane hosted and my friend Cecily Kellogg helped answer questions and get everyone get into the trenches creating their own media kits right there at the workshop.


Here’s the presentation – I hope that bloggers who complete their media kits will send them to me so I can include them in my database for future blogger outreach. (My contact info on the last page of the presentation.)

View more PowerPoint from Stephanie Schwab.


I was also able to do a bit of promotion at the workshop for the Digital Family Summit, enlisting the fabulous Philly Moms in helping to promote our conference. The Philly-area parenting blogger community is really strong, and they’re a big part of the reason we decided to do the Summit in Philly in its inaugural year. I know they’re going to be our best supporters (and attendees!) and I can’t wait to meet more of them at the Summit.

UPDATE: My friend Cassie Boorn has a very cool course online that teaches bloggers how to create media kits and work with brands. If you need some help and motivation, this could be a great way to get started! The class runs for the first time on April 28 from 2:00-4:00pm PST but you can sign up anytime and get all the materials afterwards. Cassie has given me a discount code to share with my readers, just click through here or use code “crackerjack” (no quotes) for a 20% discount.

ghostwriter

How to Hire and Work With a Ghost Writer

ghostwriter

A ghostwriter provides written content without requiring a byline or taking credit for the work. When you need written content, a ghostwriter can help you with everything from tweets and blog posts to articles and full-length books. But how do you know if you should hire a ghostwriter? Here are some hints to help you decide.

Should You Hire a Ghost Writer?

You should hire a ghostwriter if:

You are pressed for time.

Often, busy professions run out of time to accomplish the many tasks set before them on any given day. Producing quality content, which means written work that imparts useful information in an engaging manner, does take time. Sure, you might whip up an article or post in a few minutes if you’re in a jam, but the end result is likely to be far less than stellar. Sometimes the solution to a lack of time is simply hiring a ghostwriter who has the availability to help you put your best foot forward. The time you save? Put that to use for tasks only you can handle.

You should hire a ghostwriter if:.

Writing is not your forte.

Most people have at least some talents and skills of which they are proud. If writing is not one of yours, there is absolutely no shame in hiring a professional ghostwriter to get the job done. By doing so, you ensure that you put forth well-crafted written content that gets your point across and helps you meet your goals. And remember, hiring a ghostwriter doesn’t necessarily mean handing someone else the reins. You can share your notes, ideas and opinions with the writer so that the finished piece is a true reflection of you and your business. Just think of it this way: if your car breaks down and you aren’t skilled with car repair, you call on a mechanic for help. A ghostwriter is your word mechanic.

You should hire a ghostwriter if:

You have to write about a topic that doesn’t excite you.

It would be great if every aspect of your business thrilled you, but there will be some topics that just don’t bring you joy. In such a case, you may better serve your readers by choosing a ghostwriter to bring life to your topic.This way, your lack of interest won’t result in a boring and ineffectual article. A skilled ghostwriter is typically talented at researching assigned topics and striking just the right tone to interest and engage readers.

You should hire a ghostwriter if:

The topic at hand is beyond your expertise.

While you can research a topic and write about it, this takes time–time that could be better spent on other aspects of your business. Likewise, some topics may prove so challenging that you feel unsure of your ability to explain them correctly. In such a case, a ghostwriter can save you hours of research and ensure that your written content is clear, engaging and accurate.

How to Work with a Ghost Writer

The most important part of working with a ghostwriter is hiring the right one. Though you can find many websites that advertise ghostwriters and make it easy to hire one with very little effort, this is not the time to rush in without care. Instead, take the time to find the best person for the job. Once you do, establish a clear and fair working relationship to keep the writer happy and the words flowing. Here’s how.

Evaluate and Plan

Before you even start looking for a ghostwriter, evaluate your needs. What types of writing projects are you planning? How often will you need help? What tone do you want to strike? How quickly will you need the work completed? What are your short- and long-term goals for your written projects? By carefully considering your needs, you can create a profile of the type of ghostwriter you want. The answers to these types of questions can also help you convey your needs to the person you hire.

Conduct Interviews

Many people find ghostwriters online and hire them without conducting an interview. This can prove a serious mistake. An interview provides a chance to share your plans with a potential hire and determine whether she seems genuinely interested in your projects. It also provides an opportunity to determine whether you will be comfortable working with a writer. You don’t want to discover that the writer you’ve hired is uncooperative or rude when you are facing a deadline. Additionally, an interview provides an opportunity to learn more about the writer’s niche and experience. Remember, you don’t have to conduct interviews in person. Employ the Internet (Skype or GotoMeeting, or Facetime on your Mac/iPhone) and telephone to make interviewing convenient, especially when the writer is located across the country.

Review Samples

As with most careers, some writers are better at their craft than others. When you hire a ghostwriter, you want the best you can afford, and you’ll need to review your prospect’s samples to determine whether he or she can meet your needs. Ask to see a portfolio of work, or at the very least, a few samples of written work similar to the types of projects with which you need help. Also, contact the references the writer provides, and ask not only for opinions of his or her talent, but also for an evaluation of their reliability and promptness.

Create a Contract

It is easy to start a business relationship with just a handshake; even a virtual version, but this may not prove the best option for your business. In the event that something goes wrong, having an agreement in writing is worth its weight in gold. Even if your business relationship proceeds without a hitch, a written contract can help you avoid misunderstandings and keep your projects on track. What should it include? Among the critical inclusions are deadline, payment and work ownership terms. Be sure to spell out policies concerning the cancellation of work and rejection of submissions as well. Additionally, many ghostwriter contracts include non-compete and non-disclosure clauses.

Work for Success

Set your ghostwriter up for success by providing clear instructions for each project. While some details may seem obvious to you, your ghostwriter may see things differently. Providing details prevents mistakes and disappointment. Scheduling is important as well. Give your writer deadlines that allow enough time for revisions if necessary. Avoid changing your deadlines for earlier dates. If you ask for work earlier than planned, this places unnecessary stress on the writer and may lead to sloppy work. Last but not least, pay a fair rate. You really do get what you pay for.

Hiring a ghost writer may be the solution you’re looking for to keep your content marketing on track. Be sure to read more on how to hire the right writer for your content.

How To Structure A Great Blog Post

Even if you’re a great writer, you may struggle now and then with how to structure a blog post to make sure your key points are getting across.  In nearly seven years blogging and helping clients with blogs, I’ve learned a few tricks along the way which may help you, whether you’re just starting a blog or refreshing one you’ve been writing for a while.

Keep it short – or only as long as it needs to be

Why struggle with a long post if a shorter post will work?  While some business blog posts average in the 750-1,000 word range, many are quite successful at 300-500 words.  If you can explain what you want to explain in fewer words, do so, and your reader will get to the point more quickly.

Keep posts focused on one primary topic

If you find yourself starting to describe a second or third topic, step back and determine whether you can break the post into two or more posts.  A focused post will have a greater chance of getting read all the way through, so your key content will more likely get noticed.

Use headers, bullets, or other organizing tools to make important content stand out

Posts are easier to read if they have markers to break up the content and help draw the eye to important parts.  Using headers will help to highlight the key points you’re making (as in this post), as well as help search engines to find keywords within your post (if your headers include keywords).  Bullets can be used to similar effect – anything you put into a bullet will be more easily readable and noticed even if someone is skimming through the post.

Include an image near the top of the post

Sonia Simone from Copyblogger says, “Images are steroids for your headline.”  Using a great image will help draw readers in and focus on your content.  Look for images which are either literal – directly related to your content, or evocative of your content with a concept or theme.

Put time into your title – then think about it some more

As the old journalism adage goes, you should put 50% of your time into writing the article and 50% into the headline.  The same holds true for blog posts.  If you get the right title it will draw your reader in and help them to focus on your content – but the title has to match the content.  It can’t be too broad, too punny, or too blah. Additionally, a keyword-rich, focused title will help with search optimization.

How do you keep blog posts focused and help your readers quickly get to your most valuable content? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at the Creative Concepts Blog, where I’m a regular contributor on social media topics.

blog commenting

The Lost Art of Blog Commenting

blog commenting

It’s likely you’ve read a lot of passionate blog posts about the importance of an effective Facebook page, active Twitter account, and optimized profile on LinkedIn as well as why it’s essential to have a corporate blog. I don’t disagree at all. Each of these is a critical component to your social media strategy, but one piece that’s often overlooked is commenting on other blogs.

Leaving comments on blogs is like the piece that belongs right in the middle of your puzzle; without it, you’ll have a hole in the middle of the bigger picture. If you’re wondering why your social efforts aren’t gaining enough momentum, consider some of the following reasons for incorporating commenting into your strategy.

Why You Should Comment on Blogs

Search Engine Optimization

Popular search engines factor in the number of inbound links to your site. Most blog comment forms include a ‘website’ or ‘blog’ field. Each time you leave a comment, you’re creating an additional inbound link. If you leave only three comments each day (weekdays only), that’s an additional 60 inbound links to your site each month. While the exact algorithm search engines use to determine the top spot in search results remains a closely guarded secret, it’s fair enough to say, ‘the more inbound links the better.’

Reaching New Communities

Imagine you’re at a cocktail party and your friend is talking to a group of really sharp people. You walk over, join in the conversation and start meeting new people. By the end of the party, you’ve exchanged business cards with several other members of the group. In a similar way, blog commenting gives you exposure to new people and communities. In addition to helping your SEO, each website link gives readers a way to get in touch with and find out more about your brand.

Reputation Management

Businesses and brands can also use blog commenting as a customer service tool to help manage their reputation or simply thank loyal customers. If you received a complaint or a compliment via email, wouldn’t you respond in some way? Being mentioned on another blog, in a positive or negative manner, should be addressed too.

Part Of the Community

The three previous points listed here are solid reasons to incorporate blog commenting into your social media strategy. But the most important, and most overlooked, reason is to become part of a larger community. Whether it’s mom bloggers, tech-savvy blogs, or other topics of interest to you and your business, commenting helps establish your brand as part of that community. It shows you’re listening to what the community has to say, and that you really do care.

More inbound links, better customer service, more exposure and becoming part of a community bring together all of the pieces of your social media puzzle. Of all of your social efforts, it takes the least amount of time, and it can actually be fun and interesting.

Blog Commenting Etiquette

To help ensure your comments will have the most impact, follow these simple guidelines:

DO

Make sure you’re logged in to your own company’s account.

Most blogs use a specific system for comments, such as Gravatar, Open ID and Disqus. If your own blog is using one of these systems, make sure you’re already logged in with your company’s profile first. If your brand doesn’t have one on that system, create one separate from your personal profile. ‘FoxyFlyDJLady’might get attention, but not the kind you want.

Add value to the conversation.

If you’ve got something helpful to say, by all means, say it. Steer away from leaving ‘yeah, me too’ type of comments. Even if you do agree and are only trying to show your support for the author, these type of comments are a common tactic for link-droppers (people only commenting for the purposes of getting a link back to their own site). You don’t want to be confused for one of them.

Monitor for mentions of your brand and respond appropriately.

Use a simple tool such as Social Mention to look for relevant mentions of your brand. After all, not many bloggers are going to email you to say they’re talking about you. If you find a positive mention, or if the blogger is just trying your product for the first time, tell them thank you, invite them to your community and offer help if they need it.

DON’T

Argue with a negative review.

You’re not going to please everyone, all of the time. Even if the blogger is completely wrong, using your product incorrectly or simply unfair, arguing will not make the situation any better. Instead, show professionalism and courtesy. Leave a simple comment thanking the blogger for taking the time to review your product, offer your apologies that it didn’t work out for her and offer to help answer any questions she or her readers might have.

Be overly self-promoting.

Who enjoys a conversation with someone constantly trying to sell you something? Maybe a shopoholic, but most of the blogosphere does not. If a blogger mentions they are looking for a product or service similar to yours, it’s perfectly acceptable to make a suggestion. Most other situations, it would not be appropriate. In fact, it would be considered spam.

Use abbreviated text.

Keep in mind who you are representing. ‘Gr8 post, UR the best’ isn’t the least bit professional. Unless you want to be perceived as a texting teenager, stick to spelling out the full word. On that note, be sure to have your spell check on too!

Why not start right now by leaving us a comment in response to this question: Are you leaving comments on behalf of your business or brand? What other benefits do you think commenting brings to you or your brand?